laptop bands

by Clint on August 8th 2009

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use the term "laptop band" to describe a live performance... as if the device you use to make music itself defines a genre. We don't go to classical music concerts and say we really liked that "violin band" yet seeing a guy or girl and a laptop apparently breaks peoples brains.

The diagram below often provides me a useful way to explain to non-technical music fans how DJs and Musicians and "Laptop Bands" differ. More importantly, it helps your average person understand recent trends which indicate to me that differentiating between a DJ and a Musician is increasingly difficult and often an irrelevant distinction.

Diagram Key:

  • Jukebox-like - A DJ who plays other peoples music and crossfades or cuts between them.

  • Musician-like - A DJ who beatmatches, inserts loops, effects, transitions not part of the original song, "mashups", etc... They make something new, out of source material coming from other peoples songs.

  • DJ-like - Musicians who, when performing, play their own prerecorded music back and sometimes crossfade or cut between them. Potentially adding live bits here and there in the form of samples or synth parts.

  • Band-like - Musicians who do not use any prerecorded material and every sound that is heard is created on the spot.

Depending on where a performer is on either sliding scale, this may be a way to categorize things and discuss similarity and differences. What I find interesting about this approach though, is where it is obviously broken.


  1. There are many DJs who are "Jukebox-like" and use laptops to basically press play on other peoples songs and crossfade between them

  2. There are many musicians (cover bands) who use no laptops or digital technology at all, who basically play other peoples songs for audience entertainment; and often with no attempt to transition or modify them at all.

The conclusion I take from this is that the value of a DJ, Band, or Musician is independent of what technology is used and technology is merely a detail of the performer based on their specific needs. Assigning value to a performance should be independent of the technology used.

So why all the fuss?

So then, laptop or not is an increasingly irrelevant distinction. I think what most people are complaining about when they dis on "laptop bands" is not so much the laptop at all, but the lack of entertainment value in watching a guy and his computer. The first sad part of the story is that people go to concerts for entertainment as if art is a TV show. Why leave the house at all for entertainment? Hell there's probably a Project Runway marathon on right now! The second sad thing is that this lack of entertainment value is blamed on a computer. Consider Stevie Wonder. He never gets up from behind a piano. For all purposes he sits in a chair for his entire concert. Boring right? Yet... he can rock a crowd of 10,000 people out of their chairs. Why should a guy behind a laptop be any different?

Here's to hoping music fans move beyond the size and shape of the box that music comes out of on a stage towards the actual performance. P.S. I am typing this on my laptop. I guess this is a "laptop blog". :p

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